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Am I Sad or Depressed? Recognizing the Difference between Depression and Sadness

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Throughout your life you may experience events that bring on periods of sadness. However, understanding the differences between being sad and being depressed can help you decide what to do next. While sadness may be somewhat fleeting, depression is a diagnosable mental health condition that requires treatment to work through. This may include meetings with a therapist and sometimes even medication from a doctor.

Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses throughout the world. Most people know at least one person that has been diagnosed with depression, which may make you question if you too are depressed during times in which you feel down. You may relate to some of their feelings, and therefore, assume you are also experiencing this diagnosis. However, experiencing periods of sadness is completely normal, and even expected. If you didn’t feel sadness after certain negative events, it would be abnormal. Believe it or not, feeling sadness is a healthy part of the human experience. When you’re in a low mood, this doesn’t automatically mean it will morph into a mental health condition.


If you are worried you may be depressed, though, don’t discount this. Acknowledging your symptoms and feelings can help you decide if you need to involve a professional to work through what you’re experiencing. Depression can be incredibly difficult to try to manage on your own and it is always best to involve someone else who can help you get back on track and feeling like you “old self.”


There are many circumstances in life that can bring on periods of sadness. Losing a loved one, divorce, failing an exam, illness, confrontations with those you love, and many other events can cause feelings of sadness, and temporary sadness can lead to changes in how you live your daily life, such as bringing on a need to take a break from seeing family or friends or take some time off work. These periods of sadness may also bring on emotional outbursts, a lack of motivation to engage in activities, difficulty concentrating and/or sleeping, and other associated symptoms. The primary difference between sadness and clinical depression is the duration of these symptoms.


Most people begin to feel better after crying, venting to a trusted person, or just taking some time for themselves. If the sadness you’re experiencing continues to disrupt your daily routine for more than two weeks, however, it might become cause for concern. Prolonged sadness can lead to depression, and you should look out for other symptoms when you start to become concerned you may be clinically depressed. Tracking the duration of low mood can be a beneficial first step in the process of determining whether you should seek help.


Those who are diagnosed with depression often experience hopelessness, discouragement, a chronic lack of motivation, chronic insomnia, suicidal thoughts, difficulties with cognitive processing, including memory and decision-making, a loss of interest in activities you would normally enjoy, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. These symptoms are persistent, and it can seem like nothing that you do will help to lift them. They tend to be evident every day and you can’t just “talk yourself out of it.” If these symptoms resonate with you, it may be time to consider seeking help. You don’t want to wait for things to get worse and speaking to a professional can help ensure this doesn’t happen.


It is important to understand that sadness does not make up the entirety of having depression, either. There is generally a whole host of symptoms (many of which are listed above) that occur when clinical depression is present. So, if something has recently happened in your life that has left you feeling sad or discouraged take some extra care of yourself and lean on family/friends for support. Engage in added self-care, including journaling (which can help you to unload negative thoughts and feelings) and participating in social outings (a good way to distract the mind from ruminating on a sad event). Spend some extra time focusing on our health and wellbeing and make sure you’re being kind to yourself during this time.


If these feelings of sadness continue for more than two weeks and don’t seem to be getting better, contact a doctor or therapist to help you work through your feelings and set you up with a treatment plan that’ll help. It’s important to be truthful about how you’ve been feeling and what you’ve been experiencing when you reach out so your healthcare team can develop the best plan for you. As you move through the process and things start to change, make sure to voice any chances in expectations as well. Working closely with a mental health provider can be the best way to eliminate feelings of depression and take control of your life once again. You doctor might suggest a medication plan as well to supplement this in order to optimize results.

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